"In the last month, five people in my world have taken their own lives. I knew them to varying degrees; some very closely, others through people I am connected with via work or friendship or service. Three were male, two female. One had a child. Three were in their mid-40s, two were in their late teens or early 20s. Two were very successful in business.
Through their suicides, all of them have greatly affected others and have left dozens of loved ones shattered.
They struggled with depression, and, from what I have been told by family and close friends, they essentially kept how dark life had become to themselves. This is all-too-normal behavior. I know because I've been battling depression and anxiety for 35 years. And during that time I've spoken to countless professionals as well as others who have suffered from these diseases.
Depression is an exhausting and embarrassing illness. It is often frowned upon and misunderstood, seen as a sign of weakness or the creation of a self-obsessed society. Completed suicides are sometimes called selfish or cowardly, and they can be seen as taking the easy way out or simply a cry for attention.
Those perceptions are changing a bit. In at least three of the recent services, suicide was overtly discussed. It was called suicide. Depression was called depression. People pleaded with the congregations to recognize signs, to offer help, and to find support for people suffering.
When I talk about my depression on social media, people share their feelings. They tell me of loved ones who have taken their lives and how they struggle to comprehend - even years later - what could have been happening to get someone to the point where suicide seemed to be the answer.
My response is that I'm actually happy to meet people who don't understand depression and suicide. I am envious that they don't know the depths to which the mind can take us and happy that they do not see suicide as "an option." It is wonderful that so many others don't think this way. It gives me hope.
I also tell them what I have learned about depression. For example, suicide is not typically about wanting to cause others pain or avoid trouble. It is not a sudden, knee-jerk reaction to a breakup or being "found out." It is not even about wanting to die. It is about stopping an unfathomable agony, a way to quiet torturous voices and thoughts. It is a painful decision in response to an unsolvable problem.
For young people, suicide can be about bullying and abuse. It can be about hopelessness, about feeling abandoned and alone, about not believing anyone supports us. It can be about fear and pressure. It can be about clinical depression. And it can all be made worse by alcohol and drugs.
Suicide at any age creates anguish for the people left behind, raising unanswerable questions, guilt, and anger. It creates blame, ruins marriages, and drives people apart. Though it's often difficult to accept, a person's suicide is not really about us. It's not what we did and didn't do, what we said and didn't say. We might want to believe our words are magical solutions, but they aren't. They can help to a degree in some cases, but they can't fix people.
One of the hardest things for survivors is releasing themselves from the guilt of "not being there when needed." In many instances, fate simply did not present that option. It just wasn't where the universe put us. We weren't oblivious, but we also aren't superheroes.
Please, if you can, try to forgive the person who committed suicide. Let go of what you think was happening, what you think they went through. Even if a letter is left behind, it is still unknowable. You can't be in their head or know what would have changed their mind, if anything. So forgive yourself, and remember them with love and joy.
As you mourn, seek help when you need it. Even in your grief, I hope you will share love willingly and easily. I hope you will call suicide by its name. I hope you will help people who are on the precipice and want help. I hope you forgive yourself when you can't.
Right now, I have five lives I deeply wish I could have saved. But I couldn't and I didn't. That truth is what I live with."
Daniel Kaye is the director of life enrichment at Rydal Park Continuing Care Retirement Community. firstname.lastname@example.org